The History of music in Leicester

by Trevor Locke

Chapter 1 – Music Of Today

As soon as you write about today, it passes into the past. The word ‘today’ is an inherent misnomer. Today quickly becomes yesterday and ‘now’ is simply the present sliding into the past.

This series of articles traces the music that was heard and played in Leicester from contemporary times backwards. Contemporary times are those of the immediate past. Our journey starts in 2014; and works backwards.

The reason for this is that no music ever exists in isolation; all music (like any other form of art) has its roots; it takes its nourishment from the soil of its previous periods. Music is a tree that is sustained by the music of yesterday. What we hear ‘today’ cannot exist without the music made yesterday; this year’s music flowed from last year’s music, and so on, as far back as we can try to go.

These articles lay the foundations for a book bearing the same title. In this respect the articles sketch and outline a more substantial work into which much more detail will be deposited.

The articles are concerned mainly with popular music; although classical music is not ignored, my focus is on the music of the people. It is right that we should take, as our frame of reference, the whole community of Leicester. The music of Leicester is, and always has been, the cultural product of a wide variety of peoples. The people of this city are not, nor have they ever been, a monolithic group. Leicester is the typical city of diversity.

All music is a reflection of the time in which it was made; it is part of the community; it is a cultural manifestation of the values, preoccupations and tastes of the people in whose time it was made. Hence, we have to described the life and times of a period to fully understand its music. Music of the people will always reflect the times in which it was made.

Jak Skelly (left) and Tim Wilson (right) and the chorus of 'Rent' Photo: Pamela Raith photography
Jak Skelly (left) and Tim Wilson (right) and the chorus of ‘Rent’
Photo: Pamela Raith photography

Music for the Facebook Generation – 2005 to 2014

I am going to call the period from 2014 back to 2005, The Facebook Generation. Music in this period was (and of course, still is) influenced and mediated through the growing power of the Internet and, on the Internet, the social media platform of Facebook was (and is) pre-eminent.

Logo of Twitter
Logo of Twitter

Prior to the rise of Facebook, it was MySpace that provided musicians with their on-line existence. In 2014, nearly every band, singer, musician and rapper had a page on Facebook. From such pages, links took fans to other providers, such as Soundcloud, YouTube and Bandcamp, to name but a few of the many places in which the world of music could be found. Lists of Leicester bands, published before the ubiquity of Facebook, linked each group to its page on MySpace.

As soon as a new band was formed, a page for it was created on Facebook. MySpace was launched in 2003. Up to 2008 it was the most visited social media site in the world, until it was overtaken by Facebook.

Alongside the rise of these social media sites, we saw the growing dominance of the Google search engine. Previously, Internet users used devices such as Yahoo and Alta Vista to find things. YouTube was founded in 2005 and taken over by Google in 2006. Twitter began in 2006 and quickly became a popular item in the social media universe, with a large proportion of music acts opening accounts on it. All this is as true for Leicester and Leicestershire as it was for the rest of the United Kingdom and the world.

People on Facebook

It was not just the bands and singers that began to colonise the world of Facebook and social media. People concerned with and involve in musical could also be found there.

Trevor Locke joined Facebook in 2006 with a personal account in his own name. He added a photo album to his account called ‘Leicester rock stars’ in 2007. Andrew Stone of the Displacements and later Little Night Terrors joined Facebook in 2007. James Shaw and Jason Westall of The Utopians joined Facebook in 2007. The Utopians set up a group on Facebook in 2007 and had a single release at The Shed, on 9th October, using social media to publicise it. In July 2007, The Utopians played a ‘guerilla gig’ at a warehouse in Leicester, the secret location was messaged to friends at the last moment. The band set up a band page in January 2009. They also had a page on MySpace. Luke D’Mellow of The Utopians joined Facebook in June 2007. An events page for the Utopians, in 2007, included a show at The Shed on 20th December 2007 and indicated 17 guests going, including musician Raj Mohanlal, the members of the band and some of their close friends. Connor Evans (of Weekend Schemers) joined Facebook in August 2008. DJ Lisa Lashes joined Facebook in May 2009. These are examples of early adopters of what Facebook had to offer.

Lisa Lashes in 2014
Lisa Lashes in 2014

Between 2006 and 2014, the whole music in scene of Leicester found its way into the virtual reality of the brave new digital age. Bands recorded their music and made it available on the Internet. Singers filmed themselves for YouTube. Many music artists provided tracks on Soundcloud. For local music the Internet allowed something previously denied by the music industry – self publishing and self promotion.

Music and bands on the ‘web

In 2004, the domain name was registered. The Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys, which formed in 2002, was signed in 2005 but before that they had established a sizeable fan-base on MySpace. Reverbnation was launched in 2006, as a site for the independent music industry. Soundcloud was started in Germany in 2007. Between 2007 and 2009 it began to challenge MySpace as the main site for distributing music tracks. Bandcamp was founded in 2007.

By 2014, access to the Internet had become almost universal in the UK. The advent of mass ownership of mobile phones (connected to the Internet) began to replace the use of computers and laptops as the main devices that people used to see social media sites. Whereas access had been through computers connected to broadband, now people we spending their time on social media via their smart phones and a variety of hand-held devices. This increased the utilisation of social media.

The impact that this technology had on popular music was fundamental and far-reaching. It would be wrong to say that the Internet brought an end to the CD and the vinyl record but the significance of these media declined; music had become mediated through streaming and downloads through devices and websites such as iTunes, Spotify, Amazon and Bandcamp were being increasingly used to provide those tracks.

The Internet had a profound effect on music of all kinds. Music venues and festivals depended on social media to attract fans and to make ticket sales – at minimal cost. Most social media is free to use and this made it possible to put on a concert and sell tickets for it as almost no cost. Gone were the days of having print tickets and pay for expensive advertising in paper-based media.

Previously paper-based music magazines and newspapers began to close down in favour of on-line versions. In Leicester, The Monograph was published on paper for a relatively brief period of time. Even though the paper was supplemented with a website, its days were numbered. It could not be sustained as a physical product in a world where advertising revenues were increasingly gravitating towards online.

Record label A&R scouts began to work more on the Internet than at music venues. Whereas music scouts once depended on attendance at venues to see and to discover bans and singers, they now had only to sit in their offices and log on to Facebook and Twitter to find what they were looking for.

Website hosting became comparatively inexpensive up to 2014. Domains names could be registered for a few pounds and the emergence of content management services like WordPress, allowed websites to be constructed without recourse to the expensive fees charged by web designers. Having a band website became an increasing possibility for even the smallest of unsigned new groups. Although social media provided the mainstream of Internet presence, bands and singers continued to maintain websites as part of creating a professional image.

Miss Penny performing at Leicester Pride in 2014
Miss Penny performing at Leicester Pride in 2014

Getting your band on

The music of Leicester’s bands, singers and rappers (as presented on Facebook,Twitter and other parts of the Internet) began to take off from 2006 onwards. A few music acts started their own websites. In Leicester, there were some early adopters of customised domain names and websites.

In a list of Leicester rocks bands, published by Arts in Leicester, in 2009, links were given to each band’s website and the majority of these were on MySpace, most of them having dedicated addresses, like

The domain name was registered in 2002, one of the earliest domain names to be used by a band that originated in Leicester. Someone registered in 2004 for Leicester band The Screening. These were early adopters of the do-it-yourself breed of Internet users. By 2014, almost all of the musicians in Leicester’s rock bands had grown up with the Internet. Utilising it for their music was not difficult. Many of the city’s recording studios did well from this easy access to DIY outlets. Businesses grew up to service this market – such as companies specialising in the printing and replication of CDs. A Leicester company called Horus Music provided technical services for the publication of music.

The circumstances leading up to these developments are discussed in Chapter 2 of this series of articles.

The rise of the small venues

In the period between the early 90s and today, Leicester’s music scene became increasingly dominated by music venues, including The Charlotte and The Shed. The Shed started in 1994 and is still a significant venue for rock music, especially as a launchpad for new bands and singers. In 2000, Darren Nockles became a promoter at the Musician, a venue in Wharf Street East, previously called The Bakers Arms (there was also a pub called The Barkers Arms in Blaby and that too played a significant role in the history of Leicestershire music but for very different reasons.) The old Musician closed it’s doors for the last time on 31st December 2004 but re-opened in 2005. The Musician reopened on 1 February 2005, actually smaller than before because of the repositioning of the toilets, and live music continued unabated until May.

Venues closing down and reopening was not uncommon. The Charlotte closed several times only to re-open again under a new management. In 1989, Andy Wright took over the Princess Charlotte pub, having worked there since 1985 when it was a traditional public house. It’s name changed to The Charlotte and it began to be a permanent live music venue until it closed in 2010. 

Andy Wright, who once ran The Charlotte, mentions some of the bands that played there in 2006:

’22/01 Random Hand 25/01 Deaf Havana 27/01 Bad Manners 28/01 The Courteeners 29/01 Blood Red Shoes 30/01 King Creosote 03/02 Elliot Minor 10/02 The Subhumans 13/02 Robots In Disguise (From Mighty Boosh) 24/02 Rolo Tomassi 25/02 Turin Brakes 28/02 Ginger 29/02 One Night Only 06/03 Sonic Boom Six 17/03 The Rifles 19/03 Little Man Tate 29/03 Young Heart Attack 30/03 Malcome Middleton (Arab Strap) 03/04 Slaves To Gravity (again) 19/04 The Automatic 21/04 Ted Leo and the Pharmacists / Red Light Company 28/04 Dogs 30/04 Lightspeed Champion 01/05 Cud 04/05 Twisted Wheel 09/05 Spunge 12/05 Jesse Malin 14/05 Wednesday 13 30/03 The Subways 10/06 Glasvegas 22/06 Holly Golightly 25/6 Mystery Jets 26/06 UK Subs 08/07 The Business 10/07 Failsafe My Awesome Compilation 11/07 The Screening 08/08 The Dickies 21/08 The Death Set 03/09 Golden Silvers 10/09 Spear Of Destiny 01/10 Jonny Foriegner / Danananananakroyd 05/10 Iglu and Hartly 07 10 Team Waterpol 08/10 Cheeky Cheeky and The Nose Bleeds 09/10 Little Man Tate 15/10 Does It Offend You Yeah 16/10 Bromheads Jacket 19/10 Strung Out 25/10 The Long Tall Texans 26/10 Jersey Budd 29/10 One Night Only 30/10 The Pippettes 03/11 The Hunters Club 06/11 The Airbourne Toxic Event 10/11 Example 11/11 Fight Like Apes 13/11 Half Man Half Biscuit 16/11 Skinnyman 17/11 Grammatics 24/11 The View 26/11 Twin Atlantic 05/12 The Wedding Present 0712 The Holloways 10/12 Dreadzone 11/12 Streetlight Manifesto 14/12 Bury Tomorrow 18/12 Bad Manners 20/12 999/ The Lurkers 21/12 Diesel Park West. That was the quietest year of The Charlotte hence it’s closure in Jan 2009.’

The Soundhouse opened in 2010, in Southampton Street, behind the old offices of the Leicester Mercury, Prior to that the premises operated as The Queen Victoria pub and it was here that bands played from time to time. The Soundhouse has, since it started, operated as a specialised live music venue with a stage, sound desk, dedicated PA system and professional stage lighting.

The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011
The Soundhouse as it looked in 2011

The Donkey, in Welford Road, became a live music venue in 2005. This large pub provides a weekly programme of live music and many notable acts have performed there.

A cafe in the High Street – The Crumbling Cookie, rose to become one of the foremost venues for live music when it opened its room in the basement, called The Cookie Jar.

Alongside these small venues, the music life of the area benefited from the shows and concerts provided by the De Montfort Hall. A large proportion of the city’s music lovers attended shows there by national, if not world class, bands and artists.

Prior to its demolition in 2001, the Granby Halls served as a venue for music concerts, alongside its use as a sports centre. Opening in 1915, it was built as a training hall for the army in World War I. Having stood dormant for three years, the City Council pulled it down as it became an increasing cost burden. During the time when it was used as a large arena for rock concerts, it hosted shows by The Rolling Stones and Louis Armstrong among others.

It was not until 2010 that Leicester was to acquire a large-scale venue for music, with the opening of the O2 Academy in the grounds of the University of Leicester. One of the acts to perform on the opening night was Professor Green.

Prior to the opening of the O2, the University of Leicester students’ union held major rock concerts in the Queens Hall. The oak-panelled room now forms part of the O2 complex, being the medium-sized of three rooms, sometimes referred to as ‘O2.2’. The main hall of the O2 has a capacity of 1,450 and the smallest room – now called The Scholar, holds around 150.

Curve theatre opened and since then has provided a regular programme of musicals, dance shows and concerts. In the bar area, there are regular performances by singers and small acoustic groups.

Not far from Curve is Phoenix, the arts centre and cinema that has a large cafe area where live music concerts have been held from time to time. The names of both these venues have dropped ‘the’ from their titles. Phoenix hosted a series of shows, held on Saturday lunchtimes, mounted by Manic Music Productions. These shows were a showcase of talent for young music artists.

One of the larger venues in the city centre was The Firebug. It originally operated as The Firefly but changed its name to avoid confusion with another establishment. Gigs are held in a large room on the first floor, although music has also been put on in the ground floor bar area, on certain occasions. Upstairs the room has a stage with fixed lighting and there is a PA and sound desk operated by experienced sound engineers.

A venue called The Auditorium operated in the markets area of the city centre. Its premises originally served as an Odeon cinema and later a bingo hall and in its time it was one of the largest capacity centres in the city centre. The Auditorium music venue opened in September 2010. One of the best-known acts to perform there was the rap artist Example ( Elliott Gleave.)

The Exchange Bar opened, 20 January 2011, in Rutland Street. In its basement room live music events are held on a regular basis.

The Exchange Bar
The Exchange Bar

The Australian-theme bar Walkabout once hosted live music events. Standing in Granby Street, close to The Turkey Cafe, the bar closed in May 2015. The bar was part of a chain of venues operated by a company called Intertain. During the periods when live music was held in the bar, about one gig a week was usually held and often local bands were booked to play there.

In a large room above Walkabout bar, the venue Sub91 operated between its opening night in August 2010, when the show was headlined by The Damned through to its closure in December 2011.

The Music Cafe, in Park end Street (off Braunstone Gate) has been putting on live music gigs for many years. In 2005, Leicester organisation Get Your Band On put on a rock night there with Ictus, The A.I.Ds, No One Knows and Glitch. At that time the venue changed it name to The Music Cafe from its previous title The Jam Jar.

Many pubs in the city centre held live music events throughout the period 2005 to 2015. These included Time Bar (adjacent to the railway station), The Barley Mow in Granby Street, The Turkey Cafe (which held weekly open-mic nights), The Queen of Bradgate (in the High Street), Cafe Bruxelles (also in the High Street), O’Neills the Irish-themed pub in Loseby Lane, the building that housed Superfly and various other venues (on the corner of Wellington Street) and even Leicester’s longest established gay bar The Dover Castle has been known to put on live music events. One time gay nightclub Streetlife, now serves as a venue for music shows (though not for the gay community.)

Calamity Jane at Curve 2015
Calamity Jane at Curve 2015

Record shops

During the period when records were the usual media through which recorded music was heard, Leicester had a variety of record shops. Ainsleys record store closed in 2004. Wayne Allen was the manager of the store between 1983 and 2001. It was situated opposite the Clock Tower. He is credited with bringing some of the biggest names in music to the Leicester store, including Englebert Humperdinck, Radiohead, Del Amitri, St Etienne, Stereophonics, Shed Seven and Bananarama. He died in 2012.

Several other record shops in the centre of Leicester are remembered, including Back Track Records and Boogaloo, and in current times HMV, 2 Funky and Rockaboom records. People remember Revolver Records, Cank Street Records, Virgin records, BPM, Archers, Reef, Chakademas, Pliers, MVC, Village Square, A G Kemble, Archers, A T Brown, Brees, Dalton & Son, The Record Cellar, World Records in London Road, and Carousel.

The rise of the festivals

Mention has already been made of the importance of the Abbey Park festival, to the music of Leicester. Since the end of its era, several other annual festivals have grown to being important event in the musical calender of the city and county. The Abbey Park Festival, events between 2003 to 2005 formed a significant milestone in the development of the city’s festival-level live music.

The first Glastonbudget festival was held in 2005. Bands that played at the very first event included To Hell And Back, Meatloaf tribute band, Ded Hot Chilie Peppers, One Step behind (Madness tribute), Oasish and The Jamm. In 2006, the Glastonbudget Festival started to put on local original bands such as The Authentics, Ugli, Jack of Hearts, The Stiff Naked Fools, Ego Armalade, Proud To Have Met You, Platinum JAR and Ictus. by 2007, many more local original bands (called ‘new acts’ in the programme) played at Glastonbudget, including bands such as Ictus, Patchwork Grace, Skam#, The Mile, Subdude, Jack of Hearts, Black River Project, Utopians, Squid Ate Lucy, Codes, C*Bob, Purple and the Rains, Playing at Glastonbudget was for many of the new and original bands was a premium achievement.

The first Summer Sundae festival was held in 2001. The event is also called The Summer Sundae Weekender although when it started it lasted for only one day. It grew to become an important national event for indie and alternative music band sand artists. The festival was held in the De Montfort Hall and its surrounding grounds and lasted from Friday to Sunday. The last event was held in 2012 when the festival was brought to an end. Apart from acts of national standing, many local bands played on its various stages and along list of Leicester acts can be drawn from its programmes. All of the acts that performed throughout the life of the festival have been documented on Wikipedia. In July 2008, for example, Leicester band The Heroes won a competition to be the opening band on the main stage at Summer Sundae. A report at the time said: ‘Thousands of you voted and the results are in… The winners are… Leicester band The Heroes are to open The Weekender in Leicester.’ The Heroes guitarist Alex Van Roose went on to form Midnight Wire and lead vocalist Alex Totman went on to form Selby Court band.

A singer performing at Pride main stage in 2014
A singer performing at Pride main stage in 2014

The same building and its surrounding grounds are now the location of Simon Says… a music festival that employs a variety of stages as well as the main stage of the DMH. The first event was held in 2013.

The Hand Made Festival established itself as a major music event in Leicester’s yearly round of events. This festival also started in 2013, filling the gap, it is said, left by the disappearance of Summer Sundae.

Several general annual festivals also provide live music. At the Leicester Belgrave Mela, music was always present. When the event began to be held in Humberstone Gate, a large main stage included a day-long programme of music, singing and dance. The programme offered a mixture of classical Indian acts alongside the contemporary stars of Bollywood and the broadcast media. Mela events always had some kind of live music.

Leicester Gay Pride always provided a live music stage, since they began to be held at Victoria Park. National music acts performed as well as local artists. The festival site also included a dance tent in which DJs played recorded music.

Each year the Caribbean Carnival provided a large amount of music throughout the day. The parade had many floats on which were mounted sound systems to supply the dancers behind with the music for their routines. On Victoria Park, there was a main stage featuring singers and bands.

Dancers on the Caribbean Carnival parade
Dancers on the Caribbean Carnival parade

The City Festival began to provide music stages during its week-long programme of activities. In 2014, the stage in Humberstone Gate provided local artists with slots, the bands and singers being nominated by the local live music venues.

Alongside the festivals, a variety of other events have been held in Leicester, either annually or on a one-off basis. In June 2002 there was an event called Music Live that involved more than one thousands performers across six stages. A Golden Jubilee stage was held in Humberstone Gate and a Youth Music stage was situated next to the Clock Tower. World music was represented at a stage in the Town Hall square and classical music was provided at The New Walk Museum. Local bands that played included Ist, The Splitters, Stiff Naked Fools and many others.

In July 2014 the Leicester Music festival was held at the Tigers rugby ground. This ambitious event put on a number of big-name acts including Professor Green, Billy Ocean, Katy B and Tinie Tempah. Several local bands and singers also got to perform on the outskirts of the event but the only band to get a main stage slot was Violet Cities. They played because they had won a music competition called Play@LMF which had been organised to selected one band to play at the festival.

Several smaller festivals had established themselves by 2014 as part of the annual output of live music in the city. These included the Western Park festival, the Riverside festival, the Oxjam event, a music stage at the Foxton Locks festival and Cosby Big Love.

Just across the border, Download attracted a large attendance from Leicestershire’s music fans. One of the big national festivals, a few local bands got to play there on the smaller stages.

Strawberry Fields Festival took place each year in the Coalville area of the county. Founded in 2010, the festival has always provided openings for local bands and artists alongside big national acts and names.

In addition to festivals, some large-scale one-off music events have also been held in the city. Kasabian’s home-coming gig, held on Victoria Park, attracted a massive audience in 2013. The BBC held three events on Victoria Park, each attracting a crowd of around 100,000 people.  One Big Sunday was in Leicester in 2001, promoted by BBC Radio 1, with Coldplay, Kylie Minogue, Nelly Furtado, Dido, Victoria Beckham, Faithless, Craig David and Jamiroquai on the stage. A similar event also took place in 2002 and again in 2003. The stages provided platforms for the kind of big-name acts broadcast by Raio1 but there was no attempt to engage the services of any local bands or artists. The Abbey Park Bonfire nights featured live music and attracted some of the biggest crowds seen in the city; in 2009 Leicester band Autohype played to a crowd of over 20,000 at Abbey Park and a similar size of audience saw Jonezy and Curtis Clacey performing in a line-up headlined by The Vamps in 2013.

The totality of the supply of music – from the musicians of Leicester to their fans – was enormous between 2005 and 2014. In addition, many big name acts played in the city; touring bands came here to perform, music from acts of national importance was delivered at a range of venues and festivals and the small venues supplied a weekly offering of gigs. All of this represented an economy.

The music economy

Leicester developed a live music economy as venues, bands and festivals began to grow in size and number. As the number of live music venues grew, adding to pubs and clubs as places where live music could be performed, bands and artists began to put on their own gigs. It became possible for bands and singers to hire a small venue and promote their own shows (although this has always been the case historically for all types of music in the city and county.) From 2005 and up to 2014, many promoters took on the business of providing live music gigs, just as they had done in previous decades. Some of these became established names in the city; such as Wakeup Promotions, run by Paul Collins and Dreaming in Colour Productions, run by Elisabeth Barker-Carley. Many other names were found in this sector of the local music industry, some well respected for their work, others less so. It was a totally unregulated market, restricted only by the general laws of the land and the requirements laid down by the local authority for public events. The rise (and fall) of the larger venues (O2 Academy, Sub91, The Auditorium and so on) provided new opportunities for promoters to put on shows. Big name acts were booked at play at these events, together with a wide variety of local bands and singers.

Alongside live music we have already pointed to the growing economy of allied services, such as rehearsal rooms, recording studios and shops selling instruments and spare parts for them. In London Road, Sheehans music shop was a notable outlet for instruments, strings and other music-related merchandise. In Lee Street, Music Junkie became a well-known retail outlet. In the western side of the city, Narborough Road’s Intasound was the favoured shop for many musicians. Stores selling records and CDs were many, including national chains such as HMV and a variety of small, independent shops dotted around the city.

Recording studios too became a key part of the music economy. Yellow Bean Studios in the Narborough Road area established a widespread reputation and Deadline studios in Aylestone Road. In the city centre, HQ (opposite Primark) provided a small recording room, much favoured by solo artists. Quad Studios, in Friday Street, provided a range of services and was one of the long-established destinations for bands wanting to record their music with the aid of professional sound engineers.

With many hundreds of bands and singers in the area, the music economy flourished. Demand remained strong throughout this period, fuelled by the ambitions of a large market of amateur bands and singers, rappers and musicians who funded their musical aspirations from their own pockets, in the majority of cases.

Botown 2015
Botown 2015

Broadcast media also saw many ratio stations playing local music. Between 2005 and 2014, BBC Radio Leicester provided air-time for many local music acts. Changes in policy meant that local music diminished in significance from 2014 onwards. Independent stations such as Takeover and Demon FM played an important part in giving exposure to local music acts. Some very localised stations also provided air play for local acts, such as Hermitage FM in the north west of the county. Radio 2-Funky was available on-line and this radio station was probably the best for hip-hop, Funk and African and Caribbean sounds. With the rise of broadband on the Internet, Podcasts began to make an appearance as an alternative to live broadcasting. John Sinclair (previously a radio presenter for the BBC) began a series of regular podcasts featuring local bands and artists.

Music publishing had a chequered history during this period. The only paper-based magazine devoted to local music that ran for an appreciable length of time was The Monograph. On the Internet Arts in Leicestershire provided a magazine-style website from 2005 onwards until it was replaced in 2013 by Music in Leicester, having split off its music content from the remaining outlet devoted to the arts and history. In 2014 a project called ‘Leics TV ‘ was started. Leicestershire TV stated on its web site: ‘The aim is to make Leicestershire the most video connected county in Britain.’ Its founder, Rob Potter, said “The way we consume TV is changing. Technology will allow us to watch what we want, when and wherever we choose. Other than the big budget and mass audience films and programmes, most TV will be online content that we can easily search for on platforms like that meet our needs and interests”. A general arts and creatives magazine From Dusk to Dawn also featured music and musicians during its lifetime as a paper-based outlet.

Many music-related websites were founded from 2005 up to the present day. Many people remember that Pineapster was, in its day, the foremost website and forum for local music, a position that it held until the rise of Facebook.

Leicester’s music economy comprised venues, festivals, music stores, a wide range of services for bands and singers, media broadcasting, publishing and specialised services catering for the needs of musical acts. One thing that the local area lacked was professional music management. Very few individuals became music or band managers. It is true that many people acted as the managers for bands and singers, but this was almost always in a part-time capacity. Many bands were managed by the parents of musicians in them. The creation of music management agencies in the area was almost unheard of.

It is difficult to give a reliable and credible picture of Leicester’s music economy between 2005 and 2014. Few surveys were ever undertaken to provide quantitative data. In July 2012 a report was published by Leicestershire Music Education Hub. One of its stated aims was: ‘The Hub will also act as an advocate for music education, encouraging participation in music and providing innovations in delivery locally to improve music making for and by children and young people.’ Leicester-Shire Music Education Hub was a partnership of over 30 organisations as well as all schools, both Local Authorities and the Leicester-Shire Schools Music Service. National and regional partners included The Philharmonia Orchestra, The Darbar Arts Culture and Heritage Trust, Sinfonia ViVA and Soft Touch Arts Ltd. Other partners range from charitable trusts, community arts organisations, small businesses, national providers of music equipment and technology, colleges and choral groups, the report stated. Holding a wide brief, where music was concerned, the report was mainly concerned with education. Ambitious though it was, its impact is unclear and little data was provided about music in the local community. The inclusion of Soft Touch arts linked it to the community; this organisation had an important role to play throughout this period and included music alongside a wide range of other youth-related activities.

The music economy was amplified by the existence of a number of night clubs. The role of Streetlife has already been referred to above. Many people will remember places such as Mosh and The Fan Club as being destinations where recorded music was played by DJs and very rarely these venues also put on live bands. Mosh opened in 2003 and was, at one time, a very popular choice for the city’s students.

THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction - Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs - Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit - Johan Persson
THE CARMAN by Bourne, , Choreography and Direction – Mathew Bourne, Music- Bizet, Designs – Lez Brotherston, Churchill Theatre, Bromley, London, UK, 2015, Credit – Johan Persson

In addition to the regular gigs offered at the eight to ten permanent live music venues in this period, a variety of events were held that attracted large audiences to hear bands and singers. In particular, the Original Bands Showcase (known as the ‘OBS’) ran from 2004 through to the present day and resulted in one band becoming the overall winner in each year. The OBS was organised by VJT Promotions; a similar series called obsUnplugged was also organised, each year, to feature singers, acoustics groups and solo artists. Early on its time, OBS heats were held at The Shed music venue; more recently, all its events have taken place at The Musician. Other competitions and battle-of-the-bands type series were also held. Mention was made earlier of Play@LMF, in which bands competed for a place at the Leicester Music Festival in 2014. Several such events were held at The Shed and at the little cafe used as a music venue from time to time – The Pavilion on Victoria Park. A series called Empire Band of the Land was held; it was an independently promoted series of shows that took place at a variety of venues. These competitions had a varied effect on the music economy and their role within it has been controversial. It could be argued that such series of shows increased audience attendance at the venues in which they were held and that this was of benefit to the local music economy. In many cases, participating bands were required to sell as many tickets as they could for their performances as part of the deal. A series called Wanna Be A Rockstar was held at The Shed, promoted by David Norris. Also at The Shed, the Glastonbudget Music Festival held its annual auditions and, at these shows, organisers selected the bands and artists they wanted for their festivals. One of the requirements of these auditions was that a band or act should demonstrate its popularity by selling at least twenty tickets for their performance. It can be argued that such events increased ticket sales at venues, but this could have had a detrimental effect on other gigs held on the same nights. A considerable amount of debate has taken place about the pros and cons of such live music events with people being for or against them, in principle.

I have written before on the subject of Leicester’s music economy; see for example my article The economics of local live music, published in 2010 on my blog.

also in that year I wrote an article: What makes a good live music scene?, in which many of the issues concerning the local music industry were discussed on my blog.

So far I have focused on what might be called ‘western rock music’ and have not talked about the music of the many other cultures that contribute their own music to the life of the city. In particular, the Indian community is very music-friendly and large numbers of events took place that featured Indian bands and singers. Bollywood in particular played an important role in the music life of that community. Leicester’s African and Caribbean community played a major part in the existence and development of the city’s music both locally and at national level. in November 2013, the film 40 Years Of Black music in Leicester was celebrated with its premier at Phoenix arts. A review of this was published by Arts in Leicester.

Jonezy at The Abbey Park Fireworks, supporting The Vamps
Jonezy at The Abbey Park Fireworks, supporting The Vamps

A number of Leicester born artists, or those that came to live in the city, contributed to recognition of our local music, during this period. Sam Bailey (who lived and worked in Leicestershire) won the popular television series The X-Factor in 2013. In the programmes that were broadcast in the run-up to the final show, she was seen talking about her job as an officer at Gartree Prison. Although Sam was born and grew up in London, she moved to Leicester and was resident here at the time she won the show.

Singer Sam Bailey will be appearing at Leicester Pride 2015
Singer Sam Bailey will be appearing at Leicester Pride 2015

Many other famous names in music are associated with Leicester and Leicestershire. Engelbert Humperdinck has frequently been quoted as a resident of the county. Kasabian is a world famous band, whose members – in particular Tom Meighan and Serge Pizzorno – attended Countesthorpe College. The Displacements, at one point signed to Rough Trade Records, came from Blaby. Many local bands went on to have careers of national importance; including, for example, Family, Gaye Bykers on Acid, Showaddywaddy, Diesel Park West, Gypsy, Cornershop, The Dallas Boys, Prolapse and many others. Laurel Aitken, the singer, lived in Leicester. John Illsley, the bass player from Dire Straights, was born in Leicester. Lisa Lashes, the internationally renown DJ lives in Leicester. Jon Lord was born in the city and was a noted musician and composer, best known for forming the band Deep Purple. Mark Morrison achieved notoriety as a singer. The list goes on and many distinguished musicians, singers and bands were listed on the web page published by Visit Leicester in their list of famous people

Lisa Lashes on stage in 2014
Lisa Lashes on stage in 2014

A singer who lives in Leicester, Carol Leeming, has become nationally renown for her music as as well as for her contribution to literature and the arts.

The achievements of these artists, connected with Leicester, has contributed to the national significance of the city and county and this has had a positive  impact on the local music economy.

The Bands

During this period, Leicester (and its surrounding county) had many bands; so much so, that I once said that Leicester had more bands per head of population than any comparably-sized city. Between the years 2005 and 2014, I published lists of bands from Leicester.

The current bands list is on the Music in Leicester magazine website.

Radio Active at the Shed Young Bands night 29th May 2014
Radio Active at the Shed Young Bands night
29th May 2014

As part of the Archive Project, I plan to publish lists of bands from previous years. For more about this see Music in Leicester.

Lists of Leicester bands are hard to come by on the Internet; the lists published by Arts in Leicester magazine and later Music in Leicester are a rare resources for those who are interested in contemporary bands from the city and county.

Some of the articles in this series will refer to specific bands. Providing a comprehensive analysis of bands would be an exhausting exercise. One resource (for those interested in Leicester bands) for the period 2013 to 2015 would be Music in Leicester website.

In Leicester bands play all genres of music; including, for example, indie, pop, metal, ska, post-hardcore, hard rock, reggae, punk, pop-punk, jazz, blues, electronica, psychedelic… there is hardly a style of music that is not presented in what local bands play.

Alongside rock, music acts also play hip-hop, rap, acoustic and other musical genres. Leicester is also home to many singers and solo artists whose music ranks alongside those of bands. For both live and pre-recorded music, Leicester has an outstanding and prolific offering.

Musicians playing at the opening of the Food Hall in 2014
Musicians playing at the opening of the Food Hall in 2014

More to come

This article has cantered through the content and has omitted a great detail of detail. My aim in publishing this article (and those that will follow) is to stimulate interest in the subject of Leicester’s musical history. This interest will, I hope, lead to more information being submitted that can, eventually, be added to my proposed book on this subject.

If readers wish to contribute anything, I suggest that the best way of doing this is to log on to Facebook and post to my personal page 

I have also made a group on Facebook called Leicester Music History, where information is posted about the progress of my work and other contributions are welcomed.


References referred to in the articles are given on a separate page


In my next article in this series, I will be looking at the period 1990 to 2005.

[This article was published on 7th August 2015. It was subsequently updated on 21st August to add some new material and to to make some corrections]

See also:

Music and technology (an article that forms part of this series)

What’s On In Leicester

News about the City Festival and Cosmopolitan Carnival